Bruce Wayne was powerless as he watched Metropolis get destroyed by the world engine; powerless as he watched his colleague die from General Zod’s laser blast which ripped Wayne Tower in two, and powerless while he cradled a young girl in his arms as he watched “gods” fling thunderbolts from the sky.
By the time we see Batman in the DCEU, he’s been donning the cape and cowl for 20 years. And in those years nothing has changed; crime is still prevalent, the Joker still laughs, and he’s had a death in the family. Nothing changed. Then the Man of Steel arrived. He fought crime, saved the day – and not only that, he did something Batman couldn’t; he instilled hope in the hearts of men. Batman could only instill fear in criminals. Superman, he had power, true power, to enact the change Batman had longed for but was constantly out of reach from his mortal grasp. The feeling of powerlessness, of knowing Superman is more powerful than he would ever be, and that he would be powerless to stop this man from the sky if he decided to turn evil, has, as in Alfred’s words, drove him down a dark path. “That’s how it starts, sir. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”
Batman is a good man turned cruel. And his cruelty is on full display in his first entry in the DCEU. He brands criminals – the worst of the worst, knowing the sentence of death that awaits them behind those bars. He’s different; age and the constant stream of ever increasing evil has wearied the Bat, enough to make him break his one rule to stop crime. He’s killed, and he’s prepared to kill a man simply because of the power he has. Superman’s very existence exemplifies Batman’s powerlessness. If Batman can’t even keep the streets of Gotham clean by himself, how can he hope to save the world from powerful beings falling from the sky?
Hatred and undiagnosed PTSD have warped Batman’s mind. Sleeplessness, hallucinations, alcohol abuse, isolation – all the signs are there; he is a man in need, trapped in his own failure. And he reminds himself of his main failure, the death of Jason Todd, in a shrine to the Joker’s own depravity. Twenty years in Gotham, all his blood, sweat and tears poured into this city and this is what he has to show for it. Yes, the joke is on Batman.
In BvS, Batman has gone one step further than he did when he devised a way to defeat any Justice League member in the storyline of DOOM. Batman knows his limits, and he knows when he’s physically outmatched. When lives are on the line and he knows a villain can’t be stopped by strength, he will break his rule, as he did when he killed KGBeast in issue #420 by locking him in a room and letting him starve to death. (Although it was retconned, it was still canon for years.)
This is a Batman left without hope, or friends to call his own. Much like Tim Burton’s Batman, the DCEU Batman is unstable, and who has begun killing his enemies (although admittedly in less creepy ways than smiling like a crazy person when Burton’s Batman killed a goon with dynamite) instead of leaving them to the justice system to perform its duties. He is unstable, unhinged; his single-minded pursuit of fighting crime after his parents’ murder has been twisted. He brings death instead of punishment, vengeance instead of justice; he is a man apart, no longer able to listen to the voice of reason from Alfred. He doesn’t realize this yet, but he has become the very thing he hated. He leaves women without husbands, children without fathers, and as the girlfriend of one of the prisoners who was branded by the Bat told Clark Kent, he has turned into a “kind of man (who) is only stopped by a fist.”
But in the end, Batman isn’t stopped by fists, nor by a name (as some erroneously state), but by a realization; a realization that he truly became a villain. A Batman without hope, without trust in the justice system in Gotham, flawed as it is, will go about killing indiscriminately, forgetting his code of honor he once held so dear. When Lois stands between he and Superman to tell him he’s not some monster, but like Bruce was as a child, he’s just a kid wanting to save his mother. Batman was standing in the way, he was Joe Chill, he was killing “Martha,” he was killing his mother. That is what begins to bring the Bat back. That is why he made the promise to Superman that “Martha isn’t going to die tonight.” That night was the first night of a new beginning for the Bat, a renewed resolve to become what he once was.
And much like with Christ’s death on the cross in the Bible, the sacrificial death of Superman to save him and the world, rekindles the hope lost in Batman. Although he’s seen the very worst in humanity, he still has hope; because he knows humans, himself included, are at their worst when they have no hope. Knowing his failure, knowing how he failed Superman and the hope he stood for in death, he is resolved to not fail him in death.
And in what we know so far about Justice League, he’s doing his best to fulfill that promise.
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one over the times Superman has grown weary. When Heroes Get Weary
If you want to check out more about Batman and his “no kill” rule check out this article! Rule-Breakers Part 1.